(The narrative which forms "March Sunshine," as it falls within the chronology of Letters so far, is a flashback. The events described take place in early March 1903, giving us a brief glimpse of Peter's life during this time. The action of the narrative is, chronologically, sandwiched between events mentioned in Letter 34 - A Walk in the Park. The reader would do well to review Letter 34 before continuing with "March Sunshine," and possibly review Narrative 42 - Baisers de Vierge to better orient him or herself within the chain of events influenced by the action that occurs.)
Peter Bristow skimmed carefully down the agony column of the Daily Telegraph. After a most intriguing message in the 8 February Telegraph had been submitted to his notice in early March, Peter had gone to some lengths to locate copies of that most prodigious periodical for each day of the preceding week, as well as the week following. The issue he currently perused, dated 6 February, had been collected from a fishmonger's ice chest. It was accordingly rather ill-used and odorous, but it was nonetheless legible, and therefore suited Peter's purpose. He passed over the usual rubbish--"One gold and paste cufflink found outside Bond Street Station, rightful owner apply 151 Camden Street after 8 o'clock to claim;" "Mother too harsh with dear Jackie, please come home, all forgiven;" "Gentleman in red waistcoat greatly wishes to make acquaintance of lady in emerald velvet frock who occupied top box last night Savoy opera"--and then, just below "Lost tin dispatch box in hansom cab, blue and gold paint, ever so important, £10 reward if returned unspoiled, apply 15 Middle Temple Ln," Peter found what he had been seeking: "BH, advise against proposal, procure lure prior to fishing, AR." Peter relaxed in his chair, gazing at the paper at arm's length for a moment before laying it carefully on the surface of the desk. He extracted a similarly abused copy of the Telegraph and smoothed it out alongside its fellow, reviewing the message of 8 February with renewed interest: "BH, trouble swallowing? Request advice, AR." There the series of messages had ended--at least up to the present date. The preceding dialogue had lasted for little over a month, since the beginning of the year, to be exact, and was no more illuminating than this final pair of notes--a lot of cryptic nonsense about big game hunting, grand prizes, birds in the bush--the entire conversation would certainly have appeared inane if not for the way in which it had been brought to Peter's attention. The question, then, was why anyone had thought it important that he should follow this lead?
These thoughts were interrupted by the bell, and Peter rose to admit his housekeeper. Mrs. Ward was a solid little woman, and despite her rather dull appearance Peter thought it likely she was more shrewd than most of her acquaintance gave her credit for. Offering him the morning post, she went directly to work in the kitchen with only a solemn nod in greeting. Peter returned to his writing desk and shuffled through the small stack of correspondence, pausing as his fingers found a paper of superior quality. Separating the fine ivory colored envelope from its neighbours, Peter could not suppress a thrill of anticipation as his eyes fell upon the return address, written in a familiar and distinctly feminine hand. He removed the note inside, and read:
27 February 1903
How very altruistic of you to write. As a token of our childhood friendship, I am delighted to report to you that I sustained only minor bruising and humiliation. Do not trouble yourself any further for my welfare--I know I shan't trouble myself any further for yours.
Peter had dropped the note in digust and swept it to the back of his writing desk before he realised it. He should be pleased, he knew, that Miss Westley was in spirits enough to write such a reply, and that she at least claimed to have been little harmed as a result of her abduction. He was not simple enough to believe, however, that she would have divulged her greater hurt to him, or any man, no matter what her spirits. Upon reflection, he did not even know why he had written her--he should have known her response could never have provided answers for his exhaustive inquiries. Nevertheless, it was more than vexing to receive such a reply. Had she but written more, no matter the content, he might have gained a better knowledge of her precise state of mind, and thereby gleaned a better picture of her experience. She would keep this from him, however, and it irked him to such a degree as he could not account for. He retrieved the letter from where he had tossed it and read it over again carefully. "Why cannot a woman be civil!" He had exclaimed this to the heavens, but it would seem that it had fallen on other ears, for Mrs. Ward presently appeared at his side and asked him to repeat his instruction. "Pardon me, Mrs. Ward, I was merely applying to the powers that be for civility from a particular woman. You needn't be troubled yourself, as you are most commendably courteous to me, and I thank you for it." Mrs. Ward nodded and turned away, mumbling as she went, "Poor girl must be besotted." Peter, who had not missed her meaning, and experienced a piquant sting of irritation at the liberties his servant had taken, responded rather shortly, "Perhaps you ought not to read over a man's shoulder, but I can assure you that she cares nothing for me." Mrs. Ward continued on her way back to the kitchen, shaking her head, "I could not help but see what was right before my eyes, Mr. Bristow. But womenfolk are not so simple as you seem to think. I'll lay you won't find a woman who could write such a fiery note to anyone she did not care for, and I've five daughters who would say the same." Peter looked up to watch her retreat, and found his fit of temper subsiding rapidly. After all, she was a good, honest woman. A hard worker, and really an excellent person in all respects. Tucking his yellowed Telegraph issues carefully into a drawer and rising from his desk, he crossed to the window and drew the blinds. It was a fine, clear day, and Peter suddenly felt rather enthusiastically disposed to walk out and enjoy the rare March sunshine.